I drew discussion from Epicurus, Principal Doctrines. We discussed points that I felt required more thought from Epicurus such as points 4, 8, 17, and 35.
Point 4 states that “continuous physical pain does not last long” and that “extreme pain lasts only a very short time, and even less extreme pain does not last for many days at once” (Anderson, “Doctrines” 1). However, it strikes me that there are readily available counter-examples such as terminal cancers that are continuously painful until death, or diseases of the nerves that cause pain receptors to fire at uncertain intervals. Or consider the case of a torture victim. Such a person could experience extreme pain for many days at once.
I raised this objection as a sort of wishful thinking by Epicurus, but in the discussion, it was pointed out that Epicurus may have been offering this as advice to overcome that which is under your control and to accept that which is not under your control, similar to his stance on the fear of death.
In point 8, Epicurus observes that “some pleasure are only obtainable at the cost of excessive troubles” (Anderson, “Doctrines” 1). While we all agreed that this was theoretically true, we also recognized this did not offer practical advice on how to live, which pleasures to seek or how to obtain them. In his letter to Menoeceus, Epicurus hints at the virtue of Prudence as a way of knowing which pleasures to seek and which pains to avoid, but does not go into more specific detail (Anderson, “Letter” 1).
Among the group, we all shared similar concerns, so this point did not generate much controversy or discussion.
Points 17 and 35, taken together suggest that those who live unjustly or inflict or allow harm to others will be haunted by guilt and that guilt is a form of pain that outweighs any pleasure they could achieve (Anderson 2,3).
But Epicurus cannot know what thoughts or feelings anyone else experiences; he can only guess. Certainly, there appear to be misanthropic sociopathic persons who show no signs of guilt over their amoral and selfish behaviors. Indeed they behave exactly as you would expect someone feeling no guilt to behave. How can Epicurus, with no evidence, be so confident of what they feel? Epicurus can only state that if he were in the position he, himself, would feel guilty. Or consider a sadist, someone who finds pleasure in causing pain to others. Such a person would not only not feel guilt when they cause harm to others, but in fact derive pleasure from doing it. (Perhaps Epicurus suggests that such people cannot exist, but I am not sure this is well established.)
During the discussion, we also discovered that Epicurus appears to contradict himself on the tendency of gods (if they exist) to intervene in the affairs of men. First, he teaches Menoecus that there is no reason to “fear the gods” (Anderson, “Letter” 1). Then he claims that the unjust cannot be truly happy because they will “dread the eye of heaven, and fancy that the pangs of anxiety night and day gnawing at their hearts are sent by Providence to punish them” (Cicero 16). If he is correct in his assertion that the gods do not intervene and there is no reason to fear them, then the unjust have no reason to fear the gods, since they do not intervene.
As we ran out of time, Jade (our TA) suggested that Epicurus was saying only a wise man would never choose to act unjustly and therefore only an unwise man would choose to be unjust, and therefore the unwise man would also fear the gods. I hope I have recorded her idea accurately here. In any case, I personally find this line of reasoning unsatisfying. A person could be unwise only in certain areas. That is to say, An atheist who chooses to act unjustly would have no fear of divine repercussions.
Anderson, E. (2006). Epicurus, Principal Doctrines. [ebook] Available at: http://blogs.ubc.ca/phil102/files/2013/08/Epicurus-PrincipalDoctrines-epicurusinfo.pdf [Accessed 19 Jan. 2018].
Anderson, E. (2006). Epicurus, Letter to Menoeceus. [ebook] Available at: http://blogs.ubc.ca/phil102/files/2013/08/Epicurus-LtrMenoeceus-epicurusinfo.pdf [Accessed 19 Jan. 2018].
Cicero, Marcus Tullius., and Harris Rackham. Cicero de Finibus. Harvard Univ. Press, 1931.